The Irrepressible Rothbard
Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
NOTES ON THE NINTENDO WAR
THE TV WAR
For the first two days and nights of the war, I, like many other
people, stayed glued to my TV set, watching the war, concentrating
on CNN but flipping in and out of the networks. Then, suddenly,
it hit me: I wasn't getting any news. And it remains true.
What we have been getting is:
l. Endless repetitions of the same few static shots: A plane landing
or taking off on a darkened field. A missile thrusting upwards.
The same damn bird covered with oil. (How many hundreds of times
did we see that one? And that was a fake a shot taken
after some oil accident several days before Saddam's oil
strike.) If you turn on five minutes of news per day, you get the
full 24 hours.
2. Slides of maps, with radio voices cracking from Middle East
spots. No news.
3. Press conferences, with Bush, Cheney, and various Pentagon biggies
sounding off with braggadocio: We've got him; we've crushed him;
we'll crush him again.
4. Press conferences where Bush and Pentagon biggies engage in
schoolyard tantrums. After five months of routinely calling Saddam
a monster, a madman, and a Hitler, every time Saddam does something,
e.g., putting our pilot POWs on television, or unloosing all that
oil, our biggies invariably say: "That's it. Now we're really
mad." But why is this fatheaded behavior taken seriously?
5. The rest of the airtime is filled with the talking heads of
seemingly every retired colonel and general on the armed forces
pension rolls. All these mavens invariably say one thing: We've
got him; we've crushed him; we'll crush him again.
Several astute critics notably Leslie Gelb in the New York Times
and Howard Rosenberg in the L.A. Times have pointed out that
this first "television war" is not in any sense bringing us the
war, but only a highly censored, sanitized high-tech computer
Nintendo game, with U.S. missiles going off, gallant Patriot (whichever
PR man thought up that name should be getting a million bucks
a year) missiles intercepting evil Scud (ditto for that PR
man) missiles. It's a TV-high-tech phony war that the average Americano
can really get behind, sending the Bush approval rating up to
what is it? 110 percent?
And yet, every once in a great while, some bit of truth manages
to peek through the facade: Iraqi refugees in Jordan note that blood
is running in the streets in residential neighborhoods in Baghdad;
and Ramsey Clark reports that in the major Southern Iraqi city of
Basra civilians are being targeted and killed in great numbers.
Concerned that more of these reports might shake the "Nobody Dies"
theme, the Pentagon has issued a preemptive strike against such
revelations by assuring us that we never, ever, target civilians,
that our pilots have gone out of their way and even sacrificed themselves
to avoid hitting civilians, but that sometimes even with
"smart" precision bombs there is unavoidable "collateral
damage" (sort of like "side effect" in medicine?) to civilians,
and anyway it's all that evil Saddam Hussein's fault for putting
military targets near civilian areas. Oh. Like at Hiroshima and
Even when a smart bomb killed 400 civilians, it was all Saddam's
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MAVENS?
Another curious aspect of the war is: what in blazes happened to
the mavens, to all those military and strategic experts upon whom
we all rely for sober judgment on world affairs? Before January
16, most of the mavens sounded pretty good: they warned sternly
that launching a war would be decidedly inadvisable, and that a
ground war would be even worse. Then, Bush blows the whistle on
the Night of January 16, and the mavens totally flipflop. From then
on, it's: Hey, hey, high-tech! Missiles! B-52s! Pounding! No living
person can stand up to it! We'll win the war in ten days, two weeks
at the outside!
There were two parts to this total switcheroo of the mavens. Partly
it was the very same mavens changing their tune within a few hours.
But partly, too, many of the old mavens were dumped and new ones
the B team substituted. Suddenly, the sober and thoughtful
Brzezinskis and Admiral Le Rocques and Carrolls were gone, and the
second team of mindless retired colonels are trundled in to whoop
it up for imminent victory. Is this a coincidence?
Also, what happened to that fascinating pre-war session on Crossfire
when former Secretary of the Navy James Webb and the military expert
from the Chicago Tribune slated to debate the possibility
of a draft, stunned both Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley by agreeing
that the U.S. Army and Air Force were not equipped to fight a Gulf
war for longer than four weeks. After gaining a brief news flash,
this item was dropped and never referred to again. What do these
two say now? Inquiring minds would like to know.
GRINDING IT OUT
It occurs to me that U.S. military strategy, ever since U.S. Grant,
has been dogged, plonky, and unimaginative. Mencken once wrote that
the Americans love to boast about U.S. military victories, but that
we make sure, before launching any war, that we outnumber the enemy
by at least five to one. And then, in every war, we amass the men
and firepower, and just slog it out, wearing the enemy down
something like the hated New York Giants in football. With a few
exceptions such as General Patton, brilliant surprises and strategy
are left to the opposition.
In this war, so far all the surprises again have come from Saddam,
who despite being vastly out-numbered in fire-power, but
not in men on the ground is constantly keeping the
U.S. Behemoth nervous, puzzled on edge. "Why is he laying
back?" or "Why didn't he fire all his Scud missiles or fly all of
his planes at once? (so we can spot them)." "Why did he unloose
all that oil? MiGod he's worse than Exxon!" (Maybe because we insisted
on embargoing it. What else should he do with it than confuse
us, slow us down, maybe even wipe out the desalinization plants
in Saudi Arabia? Saddam's brain, after all, has not been addled
by the Environmentalist Movement.)
But we have an all-too-effective PR reply to any surprises that
Saddam can pull. The endless litany: "We're right on schedule. Everything's
DRAMATIC NON-EVENTS OF THE WAR
1. Gas Attacks. With all the fuss and feathers about gas
masks, issuing of gas masks, practicing in sealed rooms, constant
agitation in Israel and in Saudi Arabia, not one gas attack
has yet occurred. How about waiting until something happens before
featuring it everywhere? Or is that asking too much of our Nintendo
2. "Terrorism." (Assaults upon Western or Israeli civilians,
that is, not against Iraqi civilians.) The great Old Right
journalist Garet Garrett analyzed U.S. imperialism in the 1950s
as a "complex of fear and vaunting." His analysis has been unfortunately
confirmed in spades. On the one hand, endless bragging and blustering:
Hey, hey, USA! We've got him, we'll crush him, we'll kick his ass!
On the other hand, craven cowardice, endless whimpering about prospective
"terrorism." Travel has plummeted, security measures have tightened
everywhere. My God: if you were an Iraqi terrorist, with
after all strictly limited resources, would you plan your
first strike thus: "OK, let's get the Shubert Theatre in New York!"
And all the nonsense about the Super Bowl! Hey people, do you think
anyone outside the U.S. gives a tinker's damn about football? They
have more pressing things to think about or to target.
And in all the hot air and prattling about "Iraqi terrorism," there
has not yet been one terrorist incident! ("Watch out! He's holding
back!") In fact, the only authentic incident so far the
shelling of Number Ten Downing Street was committed, not
by the evil Arabs, but by the good old Irish Republican Army, who
antedate Saddam by about seventy years. Again: how about waiting
until one certified incident occurs before spreading this alleged
problem all over the front pages?
Besides, do you realize that they never caught those once-famous
"bearded Libyan hit men," who supposedly snuck onto our shores to
get President Reagan? Where are they now?
AND WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE "DRUG WAR?"
Answer: Who needs more than one war at a time?
ONE SMALL PLEA
Please, please, won't someone, somewhere, do something, to get
the ubiquitous man with the improbable name of "Wolf Blitzer" off
the air? I know that it's a small thing to ask amidst the grand
follies and tragedies of this war, but it would be so...blissful.
RED-BAITING THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT
The conservative movement (apart from the paleos) reminds me of
a punch-drunk boxer who has been in the ring several fights too
many. When he hears the bell, all he can do is to look around wildly,
swing aimlessly, and red-bait. Human Events recently tried
to do this by pointing out darkly, and correctly, that Ramsey Clark's
anti-war Coalition is dominated by the Workers' World Party, a Marxist-Leninist
group. It darkly pointed out that the Coalition failed to condemn
the invasion of Kuwait. It then tried to draw an analogy to the
Marxist-Leninists who opposed the Vietnam War, hoping to bring about
a Marxist-Leninist Asia, and eventually a Marxist-Leninist world.
Very feeble, guys. It's true that the Workers' World Party (WWP)
which originated long ago during the beginnings of the Soviet-Chinese
Communist split, are demon organizers and run the Clark Coalition.
But so what? The WWP, a pro-Maoist splinter from Trotskyism, has
about fifty members, and is a threat to no one. Its Maximum Leader,
theoretician, and organizer is one Sam Marcy, and its crackerjack
organizer and editor is Dierdre Griswold. They never had any clout
within Trotskyism or Leninism, much less in America as a whole.
Their effectiveness comes from the fact that they early decided
to abandon abstruse theoretical argument and concentrate on practical
organizing and street demonstrations against any and all U.S. wars.
But to see the imbecility of the analogy with Vietnam, ponder this:
no one, but no one, not even Comrades Marcy or Griswold, is writing
letters to each other signed, "Yours for a Baathist America." No
one wants to model the U.S. or the world after Saddam's polity.
Furthermore, a careful analysis of the left's reaction to this
war cuts totally against this standard conservative reflex. As a
matter of fact, one can almost use the position on the war to figure
out who on the left has been in the Communist orbit all along,
and who has been truly independent. Many prominent leftists have
spouted what could only be called the Gorby-Soviet line, i.e., that
Saddam must be stopped, that it's wonderful to have the U.N. back
again battling for a New World Order, that there should have been
sanctions against Iraq; but that Bush is being too jingoistic and
going too far in the war. Take, for example, Alexander Cockburn,
the last of the unreconstructed Old Left whose writings on politics
and U.S. foreign policy before August 2, 1990, were radical, punchy,
and delightfully satiric and hard core. But since August 2, Cockburn
has suddenly turned Judicious, writing stodgy and tedious articles
in the Nation, denouncing the "extreme left" for attacking
Mr. Bush's War and U.S. imperialism and for overlooking the vast
complexities of the new era. In fact, one of the many causalities
of the Gulf War has been Cockburn's once fascinating writing.
So what does that tell you where Marxists-Leninists stand? In contrast,
it should now be clear, if it ever was murky, that such staunch
anti-war leftists as Erwin Knoll, editor of the Progressive,
or Ramsey Clark, should never have been red-baited, and are truly
THE YELLOW RIBBON CONSPIRACY?
Surely, one of the main beneficiaries of the war so far has been
the yellow ribbon industry. Has any intrepid journalist looked into
this question: who are the major yellow-ribbon manufacturers? Do
they have any ties with the Trilateralists? the Bilderbergers? With
Neil Bush or any of the other little Bushes? And how did this yellow
stuff start anyway?
Color scientists: is there any color, on the color spectrum, that
may be considered anti-yellow?
THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL
And when, Oh when is General Manuel Noriega (remember him? He was
last year's "Hitler") going to get his constitutional right
to a public, speedy trial?
THE WAR HERO AS PERMANENT PROBLEM
Among the baleful consequences of nearly every American military
victory has been the War Hero who emerges from the war and then
plagues us for years as president. The American Revolution brought
us High Federalism and George Washington, the Mexican War gave us
President General Zachary Taylor, the Civil War the rotten regime
of President U.S. Grant, and World War II brought us Ike Eisenhower,
who fastened the New-Fair Deal upon the nation at a time when there
was a good chance of getting rid of it. (World War I gave us no
military heroes, but it did elevate Herbert Hoover to political
fame and eventually his disastrous presidency. Hoover was the aptly-named
Food Czar during the collectivized economy of World War I.)
If the U.S. wins a short, casualty-free Glorious Victory in this
war (or if just as effectively the Washington spin-doctors are able
to persuade the dazzled media and the deluded masses that this Glorious
Victory occurred), then who will be the War Heroes emerging
from this war to torment us in the years to come?
George Bush, thank God, is too old, unless of course, the neocon
political theorists manage to get rid of the anti-Third Term Amendment
and he can be elected President for Life. General Kelly has too
raspy a voice (being short in the intellect department is no longer
a bar to the Highest Office). General Schwarzkopf is too fat and
thuggish looking. Brent Scowcroft is too old, and besides, he lacks
charisma. We are left with: Dick Cheney, who I am sure is willing
to shoulder the burden, and General Colin Powell, who could be our
first Affirmative Action President, an event that would send the
entire Cultural Left, from left-liberals to neocons to left-libertarians,
into ecstasy. What, you ask, are his views on anything? Surely
you jest; no one ever asked that question of any of the other War
Heroes. We know that he wears his uniform smartly and comes across
well on television; what else would anyone want?
A NIGHTMARE SCENARIO FOR 1996
In case no one is worried about more proximate problems, here's
a lulu for 1996: who should become George Bush's heir apparent,
to run all of our lives from January 1997 to January 2005: Dan Quayle
or General Colin Powell? Sorry: None of the Above is not a permitted
option in our Glorious Democracy.